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Study: Marijuana Reform May Decrease Youth Consumption Rates


youth teen young adult marijuana usage medical marijuana“What about the children?” That is a slogan that cannabis opponents like Kevin Sabet might as well put on a t-shirt and wear to every speaking engagement that they attend. If cannabis laws are reformed, a spike in youth cannabis consumption of epidemic proportions will immediately follow according to opponents. Their reasoning is that cannabis reform will increase access to cannabis, and that the legal cannabis will inevitably get into the hands of youth. Never mind the fact that a legal, regulated industry has age and identification requirements, compared to the black market which has no regulations whatsoever. It’s the ‘go-to’ argument that cannabis opponents rely on early and often during their rants.

A recent study was conducted that looked at teen cannabis consumption rates after medical cannabis laws were reformed in particular states. The study found that not only was there not proof of a spike in teenage consumption rates, but that the results suggest there may have even been a decrease in consumption rates. Per Fire Dog Lake:

A new NBER Working Paper from D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen, and Daniel I. Rees examined what happened to marijuana use rates among minors after states legalized medical marijuana. They found the data didn’t indicate medical marijuana legalization laws increased teen consumption and there might actually be a small negative correlation. From the paper’s conclusion:

Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero. Using the 95 percent confidence interval around these estimates suggests that the impact of legalizing medical marijuana on the probability of marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.8 percentage points, and the impact of legalization on the probability of frequent marijuana use in the past 30 days is no larger than 0.7 percentage points.

Medical cannabis laws are obviously different in many ways than adult-use cannabis laws, but there are some underlying principles that are the same for the purpose of this article. Both create rules and regulations surrounding the cultivation, possession, and transfer of cannabis. If legalizing cannabis sales for medical purposes doesn’t increase consumption rates amongst teens, than it’s fair to reason that the same would be true for recreational cannabis sales.

Both types of sales have an age requirement, both types of sales require I.D., and both types of sales have rules prohibiting cannabis from being transferred to minors, with the exception that medical cannabis can be provided to minors if they themselves are a patient, and only with the consent of a doctor, the parent, and under strict circumstances. Transferring cannabis to a minor is strictly prohibited. Early reports out of Colorado demonstrate that legalization for adults over 21 hasn’t increased use, as teen use as actually dropped since the state legalized use by adults over 21. We have had great success as a nation decreasing teen use of tobacco thru regulation, taxation and education. It appears that we can mimic that success with cannabis regulation as well.

Source: International Cannabis Business Conference


About Author

Anthony Johnson is the director of New Approach Oregon, the PAC responsible for Measure 91, that ended cannabis prohibition for all Oregon adults in 2014. In addition to helping organize the International Cannabis Business Conference & the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference, he also serves as a Board Member of the National Cannabis Coalition, working to legalize cannabis across the country and Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, an organization specifically working to end cannabis prohibition in Missouri. As President of the University of Missouri Law School ACLU Chapter, Anthony co-authored the measures that legalized medical cannabis possession and decriminalized personal possession for all adults within the city limits of Columbia, Missouri, in 2004. Following law school, Anthony practiced criminal defense for two years before working full time in the political field to help improve and protect civil liberties. You can follow Anthony on Twitter and also friend him on Facebook by following the links below as he posts mostly about civil liberties and politics with dashes of sports, music, movies and whatnot.


  1. yeah called older brothers and sisters <only child parent had xmas gifts form like 1968-1988 full of bottles no need there im fine now it was phase i prob tasted evrything ouyt there almost free the plant and it cosins the hemp it a perfect food as i try to ween off dairy and drink hemp nut milk

  2. How about this compromise: Lower the legal age to 18 for alcohol and (potentially) bud, but include a limit as to how much anyone under 21 can buy at one time.

    It seemed to work for the allergy medication they put behind the counter at the pharmacy, which limits the amount one can purchase per month. (Makes it a real hassle, but seems to have curbed the illegal market for, what was it, meth? Of course, the myth about the drug war is that tactics like this work — the underground just finds new and different drugs to replace the ones the DEA controls.)

  3. Fake ID’s, contacts, parents’ liquor cabinets, probably more. That’s one reason for my previous argument: Since forever kids have found a way to get alcohol, so why should MJ be any different?

  4. Yes stand outside any liquor store and you would be suprised what people will do to make money.

  5. Captain Obvious on

    This is why drug education in schools needs to be taught only by qualified health professionals.

  6. “The State must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.” — Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf”

  7. I wonder, where do underage kids get alcohol? Is there an underground market for that drug?

  8. If kids want it, they’ll get it. I predict that long after legalization takes place a thriving black market will remain to provide for the younger crowd. We should think about lowering the legal age to at least 18. Radical idea, huh?

  9. Has the black market dwindled in these states? Anyone know about any reports in that area?

  10. No legit bussiness will sell to any underage person. Because of the penalties. But once again that does not stop your illegal black market drug dealers who don’t care how young a kid is. So if a 8 year old wanted to buy any drug tat dealer will sell. I know some of you think an 8 year old come on.. Yes an 8 year old is entirely possible. A lot of bad shit happens in the worse areas of the biggest cities.

  11. This just proves once again that opponents of marijuana legalization just use scare tactics that include made up facts. When ever I hear them speak all I here is bla bla bla.

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